Understanding Fonts for Logos
“There is a lot more to fonts than meets the eye”
The Different Types of Fonts
There are thousands of fonts available today, but most can be broken down into five broad categories. How each of these is deployed and designed plays a significant role in their symbolic meaning. These five font styles offer unique characteristics, so let’s break them down:
These are the oldest font type, with the first examples appearing as early as the late 15th century. The word ‘serif’ refers to the small feet present at the tops and bottoms of each letter. These tiny flourishes stem from artists’ brushes who would add them as a decorative element.
Serif fonts can be broken down even further into several subcategories (Old Style, Classical, Neo-Classical, Transitional, Clarendon, etc.). Today, Serif fonts are among the most popular typefaces in use, with styles like ‘Times New Roman’ being ever-present in books, documents, and even some logos.
This style of font is characterized by a more conservative design and, despite the many subclasses, the presence of the serifs at the top and bottom of most letters. Notable logos include Zara, Tiffany & Co, Abercrombie & Fitch
Sans Serif Fonts
Sans Serif fonts dispense with the flourishes of their predecessor for a cleaner, more modern approach. They date back to the 19th century and became immensely popular in the 1920s and 1930s. During the mid-20th century, German designers further expanded the typeface with the creation of the popular Helvetica design.
These fonts are defined by their clean, straight lines. They feature no flourishes and emphasize readability and simplicity for a more scalable design. Sans Serif fonts can also be broken down into several subcategories, including Grotesque, Square, Geometric, and Humanistic styles.
Notable brands that use sans-serif are Linked In, Calvin Klien and The Guardian
Slab Serif Fonts
Slab Serif is a variant of the traditional Serif typography that emerged in the 19th century. These typefaces are bold and emphasize a departure from their classic counterparts. The feet that define Serif fonts are larger and slab-shaped in Slab Serif (leading to the name).
Slab Serif is characterized by its solid and bold approach and is more at home with modern brands than more classical ones. These fonts can be both more rounded or angular, and some look much like type-writer types due to their origins.
Some of the most prominent examples of Slab Serif font are companies like Sony, Honda, and Volvo
These types of fonts dispense with the blocky print look in favor of a more natural-looking cursive style. Scripts come in two major sub-categories: formal or casual and are designed to resemble hand-written calligraphy.
Formal scripts are defined by their flourishes and curls, which are called swashes. Generally, it’s recommended to use these fonts sparingly, as they can affect readability and make word or letter marks hard to understand and scale. Casual script styles rose to popularity in the 20th century and tone down significantly on the flourishes.
Casual script fonts are more low-key than formal ones and emphasize legibility.
Some of the best-known companies that employ script-based logos include Coca-Cola, Instagram, and Cadillac.
Decorative fonts eschew conventions in favor of a unique and appealing typeface. Most decorative types are useful for a variety of industries and needs as they are generally tailored to specific companies.
Decorative or Display fonts are rarely used for long strings of text. Instead, they’re ideal for letter and word marks that are more economical with letter counts.
These types can sometimes fall out of fashion if their design is too topical or niche. Even so, they’re great for use in logos. Some of the most famous companies in the world have their own fonts, including Toys R’ Us, Lego, and Fanta.
The Psychology of Fonts
It may seem like there is not much to weigh when selecting a specific font, but there is a deep psychology behind each style. Fonts have personalities that can be used to elicit specific responses and create unique mental associations to a brand.
- Serif Fonts – Serif fonts are popular with companies that are seeking to portray an elegant, sophisticated brand. Logos with these types display an air of tradition, respectability, and reliability. Additionally, Serif helps companies seem more established and are ideal to communicate an identity based around authority and grandeur. Organizations in academia, editorial, and financial fields favor Serif fonts thanks to the conservative and respectable appearance they deliver.
- Sans Serif Fonts – The more modern Sans Serif fonts offer a cleaner, no-nonsense approach. Companies that pick these types prioritize a sense of sensibility and honesty that removes flourishes and flair. Sans Serif fonts emphasize clarity and an eye to the future with a forward-thinking approach. They can also be bold and used as an attention getter thanks to their clean and efficient design.
- Slab Serif Fonts – Slab Serif fonts are all about portraying a bold, loud image. These types convey a sense of confidence, solidity, and creative thought thanks to their heavy lines and less delicate serifs. Companies attempting to make a big splash or indicate how innovative their ideas and products are, choose Slab Serif types. They can help communicate a sense of importance and need.
- Script Fonts – Generally, script fonts evoke ideas of elegance, creativity, freedom, and femininity. Their curved and flourished style also communicates a more hands-on, personal approach to business. Companies that want to convey a particular experience or feeling can use script fonts to great effect. Similarly, script fonts are perfect for those attempting to transmit a sense of unique and artful thought.
- Decorative Fonts – These fonts can be used to profound effect to evoke a variety of feelings. In general, they convey a uniqueness and emphasis on originality. Additionally, their flexibility lets companies decide what emotions to focus on by allowing them to mix and match different font styles.
Some of the most common emotions elicited include a sense of casual, fun, and creative thought. They can also evoke a specific cultural meme, characteristic of a time period, or a theme.
The Best Fonts for Logos
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to determining the best font for your logo. The main considerations are that the font you use is easy to read, it reflects the personality of your brand, and resonates with your audience.
- Georgia – The stylish Georgia font is a combination of beauty and simplicity. Unlike its older predecessors, this type was created for a computer generation and was designed to ensure readability at low screen resolution. It comes in four main varieties: regular, bold, italic, and bold italic. Georgia was created by Tom Rickner and Matthew Carter. Both Huffington Post and The New York Times still use Georgia extensively.
- Caslon – One of the most basic and commonly used in the Serif family, Caslon traces its origins back to 1725. Caslon was considered the font of choice for royalty and politics when it first emerged. The type is delicate and straightforward, emphasizing spacing and clear lines to improve legibility. The font was revitalized in 1990 by Carol Twombly and is now known as Adobe Caslon. Today, the University of Virginia uses Caslon for their word mark.
- Century – A slightly bolder and more professional font, Century is a font of choice for professional settings. It’s become famous thanks to its legible design and versatility. It can be used in logos as well as a standard font in newspapers and magazines. The font was created between 1900 and 1904 by the father and son duo of Linn Boyd Benton and Morris Fueller Benton.
- Garamond – Garamond is another standard in the corporate world created by the Bentons. Its slightly heavier lines and spacing make it easy to read. As a result, it’s also used in presentations, publications, and other longer texts. McSweeney’s Quarterly, the literary publication, famously uses Garamond exclusively for all their textual needs.
Sans Serif Fonts
- Helvetica – One of the golden standards of Sans Serif, Helvetica is also one of the oldest. Originally designed in the 1950s by Eddouard Hoffman, Max Medienger, and Matthew Carter, it falls in the Grotesque family and emphasizes versatility. Its heavy lines are ideal for modification and can be made spaced or condensed as needed. Helvetica is most notably used by social media giant Facebook.
- Avant Garde – As the name implies, Avant Garde is a mix of traditional Sans Serif with some new sensibilities. Unlike many of its predecessors, this font features thinner, more open letters. It was designed by Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase in 1970 for Avant Garde Magazine. The font’s lines can be made heavier to fit specific design needs.
- Arial – Arial is by far one of the best-known Sans Serif fonts today. Created in 1982 by Patricia Saunders and Robin Nicholas, it is used extensively to draw in readers’ attention and for clarity in signage. It’s also considered a standard for most texts produced. Google famously switched from its Serif-based logo to Arial in their new design.
- Optima – Optima lies somewhat closer to Serif fonts thanks to its slightly curved lines and thinner design. The text is elegant and ideally used in professional settings such as signage, business names, and marketing materials. It can be modified to add weight to the lines and is easy to read without sacrificing elegance. Luxury automaker Aston Martin has employed the Optima font for many years.
Slab Serif Fonts
- Rockwell – Rockwell fonts emphasize a bolder, heavier line that pushes boundaries. Logos that use Rockwell font tend to do so for impact and a sense of clout and confidence. Because of its thick lines, it’s better suited for logos and signs than it is for long texts. IBM’s iconic letter mark is still the best example of Rockwell in use.
- Clarendon – Clarendon was first used in the mid-1800s, and is like Rockwell with its thick likes, though it uses different weights to create a more flexible type. It is used as an eye-catching font, drawing attention to its smaller serifs and bolder lines. It is excellently suited for smaller texts and letter marks. Both Sony and Pitchfork Media still use Clarendon in their word marks.
- Museo – Museo combines the best of both worlds, employing modern looking smoothed angles that end in pronounced serifs. Its designer famously created it because of his love with the letter U, to which he wanted to add curved serifs. The font is increasingly popular for websites and web-based services such as IdeaFoundry.
- Didot – Another modern-looking typeface, Didot was created in 1799. The design features thick lines with thin curves, as well as thinner, squared, serifs. It is very common in the fashion world where its different weights give it an air of elegance and creativity. Today, companies like Armani and the television show America’s Next Top Model still use it.
- Spencerian – This is one of the most easily recognizable fonts thanks to the company that popularized it—Coca Cola. The typeface was derived from the calligraphy script of the same name, and features large capital letters to go with smaller, more delicate lower-case text. It also includes some flourishes, so using it extensively can affect legibility.
- Billabong – Billabong is a script that features letters standing more vertically than its counterparts. The font is more casual and deemphasizes the importance of connecting each letter to the next. Instead some letters are connected while others are free-floating. The font was made hugely popular by Instagram, which used it until they had a unique font created for them.
- Mistral – A product of the 1950s, Mistral is a casual script that is based on the designer’s own handwriting. The style—seemingly made with brush and ink—gives logos a more laid-back and artsy feel that builds a more personal connection. Holiday operator Sandals uses it today, and many movies, shows, and other media employ it extensively.
- Aguafina – This modern take on casual scripts is an aggressive and bold font. The text is slanted and letters are condensed together, creating an edgy look that is best suited for word marks. It’s also ideal for shorter texts.
- Rosella – These traditional-looking fonts are inspired by engravers’ typefaces. The family closely resembles traditional Serif fonts, but takes its inspiration directly from the Deco movement, and features interesting uses of colors.
- Jokerman – A whimsical and highly ornate font, Jokerman is best applied sparingly. It’s not designed for use in large texts as its complexities make it hard to read. It was created by Microsoft to inject humor and vitality into texts though it should always be used with caution.
- Respira Black – The Respira font takes its inspiration from the elaborate and thick calligraphic stylings of the 15th and 16th It can be used to convey a sense of elegance, intricacy, and attention to detail, but is best used in letter marks or shorter word marks, as it can become hard to read.
- Velo Sans – Velo Sans uses an interesting combination of angles and curves to create squared letters. The typeface includes 16 unique fonts that can be applied in both small and long texts. Its thin lines and rounded corners give it an art nouveau look that is excellent to create a sense of nostalgia.
At Tailor Brands, we often are asked to recommend modern fonts. You might be wondering, what are modern fonts? While the name implies they are recent creations, they have been around since the 18th century. Modern fonts aren’t bound to a single category but take elements from different typefaces and apply them in unique combinations.
Modern fonts are characterized by their vertical stand and sharp contrast between thin and thick lines. The modern types that use serifs tend to relegate them to hairline flairs instead of the blockier versions of traditional fonts.
Today, modern fonts include both Serif and Sans Serif designs. Overall, they tend to be highly structured, clean, and are optimal with larger font sizes. This makes them ideal for logo designs. Some of the most famous Modern fonts include:
- Abril Fatface
So far, we have talked about fonts as singular objects. But what happens when you combine fonts with logo design? This is a common technique used when your logo also includes a tag line to add contrast and call attention to different elements.
Combining fonts is a clever way to add variety to a logo, but it can backfire if not handled properly. One of the biggest positives is the ability to highlight each aspect of your word or letter mark equally. Combined fonts also give you a bigger palette to work from, letting you apply different fonts in your marketing materials and products.
However, you can overdo it if not careful. Adding too many fonts can distract from your main message and obscure your company’s values. Additionally, it can make your logo seem crowded and hard to scale.
If you’re looking to combine fonts, make sure to follow these 5 rules:
- Don’t use too many fonts. When you start combining different typefaces, the temptation can be great to keep adding more. Finding fonts that complement each other is your top priority. Pick two or three that work together to enhance the tone you’re seeking.
- Keep a strict hierarchy of fonts. Make sure each font is visibly distinct from the other. Your company’s main font should always be larger and more prominent, while secondary fonts can take a back seat and give you more elements to play with in design.
- Keep fonts in the same family. A useful way to avoid sharp and jarring font combinations is to look at typeface families. Most of them include many variations of the same theme, with different weights, spacing, letter thickness, and widths. This will help you find fonts that balance each other better.
- Mix Sans Serifs with Serifs. You can add visual contrast without overdoing it by combining similar fonts with and without serifs. Mixing them with different sizes can create interesting contrasts that are still legible and appealing to readers.
- Avoid fonts that are too similar. If you’re combining fonts, the goal is contrast. Choosing fonts that look too much alike undercuts that objective. It becomes harder to establish hierarchies and it may look like you simply made a mistake rather than a deliberate choice.
And That’s a Wrap
Choosing the right font is a critical aspect of any logo design. The right typeface doesn’t just make your logos look better but can give you additional layers of symbolism. This helps you better communicate your company’s values and goals.
Make sure to consider how each type and font style complements your brand image. By finding the right blend of types and design elements, your logo can tell a story to help you build a stronger brand identity.